This week our female founder is Maz Cohen, Founder & Wish Director of Wisher. Maz is pursuing a noble mission to fulfil wishes and has a relentless focus on building a recognisable and aspirational brand.
Intro and Background
Tell me a bit about your background prior to Wisher.
My background is advertising and marketing so I’ve been in the industry for about ten years and my last job was in strategy. It was very much working on big branding campaigns – from telling brand stories, all the way to developing retail strategies. I worked for Sony for a few years on their mobile phones, the e-commerce strategy and those sorts of projects and that’s when I started tinkering with the idea for Wisher. I was working all the way from TV to brands and experiences. That comes from my curious nature, I did the whole circuit, I did everything, and then I realised; I’d done it but now I want to do my own thing. I always knew my fate but I wanted to go and gain experience and learn from, I guess, the best.
What made you take the leap from full time employment to setting up your own business?
My husband has his own company, he’s a filmmaker. He runs his business from home and I was very inspired by his flexibility and also the fact that he’s the master or his own destiny. For me, I always knew I wanted to start my own business and I was always waiting for the point that I had enough experience to be able to make that leap. A lot of people, a lot of young people, make that leap quite early but I think the thing that really helps your startup, or when you start your own business, is the network you have and the experience behind it. So many young people go and start their startup right after they finish school or university and I think it’s much harder to do. With Wisher, the moment I decided to do it, I had a massive support system; everybody wanted to help out and there wasn’t one moment where I felt alone in the journey because really you’ve built a network of such fantastic people along the way. That really helped.
Wisher - The Journey
Tell me what Wisher is and how you came up with the idea.
Wisher is a platform that enables people’s wishes to happen. Any wish you have, big or small, can be put on Wisher and then it’s like a social community. All your friends and family can see what you want. Say you wanted to have a trip to the Maldives, or you’d like to go and walk the Inca trail, or you saw something lovely in Selfridges that you want, you load all of that into your profile and then when it comes to something like Christmas, or Birthday, or even spontaneous moments if somebody just wants to say ‘Hey, you’re awesome’ and they can surprise you with a gift. The idea is that we wanted to bring ‘giving’ back, because there are too many barriers around giving. For starters, people don’t buy as many gifts any more, people are now defaulting to vouchers. When kids have parties, people just give money. The whole magic of giving is gone so what we tried to do is bring that back with our platform. You can create your community of wishers and givers and it also inspires you to think about the things that you might want to wish for. That is the amazing thing about the platform; so much of that has happened. That is really what our business is about. It’s about wishes and it’s about giving and it’s about making giving easy and wishing away unwanted gifts forever.
In the UK, there is about 2.4 billion pounds of unwanted gifts. After Christmas in the UK, 200 million pounds worth of gifts get put back onto eBay the next day. On the 26th, everybody just floods the site to get rid of stuff they don’t want. People gift stuff that isn’t wanted or needed and there’s just so much waste. Part of what we are aiming for is to eliminate this waste and ensure you always get the thing you want. If I can contribute towards your trip to Italy or something like that then that’s much more meaningful.
How did you come up with the idea?
My husband’s family inspired me. They did a few things for me. I never used to make lists, grocery lists or lists of anything and then I started ten years ago when I got married to my husband. His family, by November, were already requesting Christmas lists. I was not even in the mind-set, I didn’t even know what I wanted. I’m also not very material; I’m more of a mental traveller so I’m more about the experiences. For me, the hot air balloon rides or diving were better than ‘things’. So, when November came it was really stressful but it sparked the idea of lists for things you want. I like visual things and I’m a visual person so I also love the idea of Pinterest. I love the idea that Pinterest can become our wish list and then it will be gifted to you spontaneously throughout the year.
Furthermore, a big barrier for brands is that people go to stores and see something they love but then they forget about it. A big mission of mine is to not forget anything. My idea is that you should be able to go into a store, you snap something you like, you scan it, and it saves it to your list of all the things that you want and maybe you can get notifications in the future when they go on sale. Why does that not exist? I travel a lot and I see things I love around the world.For example, if you go to China or Japan, you could say, ‘Oh I really love this brand or this quirky thing’ and then you can save it in a scrapbook of things that you love. Having thought about this, I woke up one morning and the penny dropped - I said I’m going to create this thing. I talked to my husband about it and he was like ‘I frickin love it’ so I thought, ‘right, that’s it, I’m going to do it’. It happened that Wisher was not registered and so we claimed the name. Since then it’s been going full steam ahead for 18 months. It’s been absolutely phenomenal.
Growth and Team
How have the first 18 months gone, tell me where you are today.
I’m quite a visual person so I immediately wanted to get the brand right. From Day 1 we got designers on board and went on a three month journey where we got the video done, got the wireframes, the business plan and then went out to test it with people; everyone from senior people in businesses to friends and family.
From the word go, everyone could start seeing different avenues that it could go and that was when I knew we had to start building. Within two months we pulled together the MVP and it was crazy. Just before Christmas we had a massive party, our MVP launch party, in Kings Cross and it was amazing. We got the world’s tallest bubble magicians and we had awesome DJ’s. It was in a really magical venue. Then we tested the MVP over Christmas and everyone gave us their feedback; off the back of that we had validation.
Now we’re going full steam ahead developing our bigger platform, and then on the back of that we’re going to run up to Christmas again now. I’m lining up those partnerships and then next year we’re going to go for funding.
Do you have your tech in house or have you outsourced?
We are self-funding up until next year so we’ve outsourced the tech; we’re working with talented companies all over the world. It just works for us because we’re still in between freelancing jobs and doing Wisher so to have a permanent team isn’t going to work for us. We’ve got a tech advisor, who’s based in the UK so he’s overseeing all of this for us; he’s amazing. He’s taken the lead on the product development and advising and actually being very involved day to day which is not a very advisory role.
We’ve also got a product manager who’s also just come on board for us. That’s the nice thing about Wisher, in fact it’s the amazing thing about Wisher, it attracts people who just really want to be involved. They come and see how we work and say ‘I’ll come and be your advisor or I’ll come and be your product manager’. What’s really amazing about the business is that people want to get involved.
Challenges and Achievements
What has been your biggest challenge that you’ve faced?
The biggest challenge has definitely been the tech. Everything else is something you can find, or you can learn easily.
What would you say is your biggest achievement so far?
Our biggest achievement so far is having our founding team where it is today, we have very strong foundation in our values because we’ve invested lots of money and a lot of time in this. Urchana, my business partner is a rock and at the same time so much fun. We’ve formulated our values into a really solid manifesto which we’ve all aligned with. We’re all in line that our aim is not to become millionaires but to do great business and to have a brand that makes a difference. This projects to the outside world, as now we’re getting e-mails from people saying they love what we are doing and even people asking for a job at Wisher.
Advice and Final Thoughts
What would you say is your vision for where you want to be in a year or two?
We want to be a globally recognised community. Our long term ambition is to be the number one community in the world for giving, so whenever you think ‘wish’ or I need to give something to somebody, the first thing you think about is Wisher. In the next two years, it is to establish the UK presence and I’m going over to San Fran to establish contacts there, so having a footprint in the UK and US.
If someone was starting a business tomorrow, what would your biggest piece of advice be for them?
With a business, it is all about the foundations. I can’t emphasise it enough that you need to make sure you have people with similar values. Make sure that you’ve got your foundations right, that you’ve got your values right and choose people with those values. Then off the back of that, your business will be successful because you’ll attract people with the same values.